Spaghetti alle vongole is a mainstay of trattorias and restaurants in Naples and Rome, and is prepared in rosso or in bianco: with or without tomatoes. This version is in bianco. Vongole are small, so find the smallest clams you can. You can serve this dish either with or without the shells. If a clam is too heavy, or if it is open, discard. Discard as well the clams that do not open when cooked. If you want to shell the clams, rinse them thoroughly, and place in a bowl of water for an hour or so. They will drink up some of the water and release more liquid when steamed open. To shell, place in a pan over high heat until they open, a few minutes. Shaking the pan seems to open them more easily. Remove clams as they open or they turn rubbery. Save the liquid they released and strain though cheese cloth if you see any grains of sand. Mussels may be substituted for clams. Obviously, the taste is not the same.
2 lbs clams in their shell (the smallest you can get - Little Neck or 'steamers' on the west coast) 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced 6 T extra-virgin olive oil salt and pepper to taste 1/2 red chili pepper, or 1/4 t chili pepper flakes (optional) 1 1/2 to 2 T fresh parsley, chopped 1 lb spaghetti or linguine
In a large skillet or pan sauté the garlic in the olive oil (if you use the chili, sauté at the same time) over medium heat till golden. Raise the heat to very high; add the clams and cook, shaking the pan occasionally. The clams will release their liquid and you should have enough to wet the pasta. Continue cooking till shells open, anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the heat and size of the clams. Remove from heat, discarding any closed clams. If you prefer using the clams shelled, add them along with their liquid to the hot oil and garlic for a few minutes. Just till they heat through, otherwise, they will tough and rubbery if cooked too long. Meanwhile,cookthe pasta. Drain thoroughly and drop into the pan with the clams. Season to taste with salt, and a few turns of the pepper mill. Sprinkle with the parsley, mixing as you do so. Serve onto pre-heated dishes.